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Same old faces, same old flaws as fortune favours England's braves

When Scotland go looking for a try these days, there is a powerful suspicion that they'll find Lord Lucan, Shergar and the Lost City of Atlantis before they finally discover the secret of getting one of their players across the whitewash.

The fruitlessness of their efforts has reached a point where you start to wonder if someone up there – and we don't mean someone up there in the television match official's booth – has taken against them. Between chances botched and chances butchered there was a gathering feeling around Murrayfield on Saturday that it just wasn't going to happen for Andy Robinson's side.

In stark and salutary contrast, England were impressively efficient at making the most of the opportunities that came their way. They had two clear chances of a try and took one of them. That script would suggest that they had hard-nosed experience on their side; in actual fact, they trailed Scotland by some distance in that regard.

England started with three uncapped players on the pitch. They diluted the team's rugby nous by bringing another four Test newcomers off the bench as the second half unfolded. Six of the Scotland squad had more than 50 caps; not one of their English counterparts had hit the half-century mark.

There was just as much of a gulf between the coaches. As player and coach, Andy Robinson has been involved in international rugby for more than 20 years. There isn't much he hasn't done – up to and including winning the World Cup. England's Stuart Lancaster, on the other hand, had risen without trace, plucked from obscurity after his country's meltdown at last year's World Cup. And yet England played a far, far smarter game.

Lancaster had the confidence to give youth its head, to trust players like the 20-year-old Owen Farrell to cope with the challenges of making his Test debut at a packed Murrayfield. He handed the captaincy to Chris Robshaw, 25 years old but with just one cap to his name. He backed them and he backed his judgement, even as the doomsayers dismissed his strategy as reckless.

Robinson's approach could hardly have been more different. In the build-up to the game he made clear his belief that a Calcutta Cup clash on the opening day of the RBS 6 Nations Championship was no place for a tyro. Had other players been match-fit, it is doubtful whether even Lee Jones, the one uncapped player in the Scotland side, would have been handed a start.

Yet at the finish it was Scotland who looked like the rabbits in the headlights. Lancaster's team controlled little of the play, but they controlled the scoreboard superbly. As Scotland flooded forward in waves during the final quarter, roared on by a crowd who had scarcely made their presence felt in the rather flat first half, nothing taunted them more emphatically than the fact that the only points scored in that period came from Farrell's final penalty, six minutes from the end.

A couple of weeks ago, I asked Lancaster how he expected to feel in the minutes before his first match in charge. The likeable Cumbrian smiled, and admitted then that he had simply no idea, but that the prospect did not faze him. There was nothing cocky in his response; rather a level-headed belief that things were on the right path.

I asked him again on Saturday evening. Another smile. "I have a confidence in the players and the environment we're creating," he replied. "I've not coached at this level before, but I've coached international rugby with the Saxons [England A team].

"You learn to manage your own personal preparations. There was a mixture of apprehension and nerves and excitement, but from then it was just about helping the team win."

Lancaster's reputation is as a rugby technocrat. After the World Cup shenanigans he was brought in as a safe pair of hands – although those hands were not so safe in the moment after Charlie Hodgson's try, when he punched the ceiling in his coaching box at Murrayfield and split a finger open so badly that he subsequently needed two stitches.

Upon his appointment as England caretaker, the show-us-yer-medals brigade questioned Lancaster's background in light of his own modest playing career. It is worth recalling, then, that five of the seven head coaches of World Cup-winning sides were also unencumbered by a single Test cap. In succeeding Martin Johnson, Lancaster took over from the man who is arguably the most feted player in English rugby history, but in wining at Murrayfield he has already done something that Johnson the coach never managed to do.

You could argue that England rode their luck. You could say, too, that Scotland never had any luck to ride. The game hinged on the try Scotland gifted to Hodgson and the score they were denied by the TMO when Greig Laidlaw seemed to get a finger to the ball a split-second ahead of Ben Youngs. But Scotland had so much possession that those incidents should not have mattered, and they were horribly profligate with it.

Lancaster said: "What has given us a foothold in the tournament is hard work, a willingness to play for each other and keeping our feet on the ground,

"People know we have to improve on a lot of things in that performance to be contenders, but we have to celebrate the victory too. It was an important victory. It's nice to get that start and give the players the confidence that we're going in the right direction."

Robinson would have loved to be able to deliver those words. Instead, he has to scrape together a side and a gameplan for what already looks like a fiendishly difficult assignment in Cardiff next weekend. His reputation has held up well thus far, but another maddening defeat might open up the first cracks in his armour.

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